A curious collection of objects awaits you at this month’s Hands on History session on the 16th of March! In light of our own efforts to enhance our sustainability and in anticipation of St Patrick’s Day, we’re going green with objects from around the world and across time brought together by their green hue. Hopefully you’ll not go green with envy or green around the gills when you join us for a look at some of our intriguing collection.
Today though, I’d like to focus a bit more on one of the objects coming out for the session, a Roman glass bottle from the first century AD. Though it may not look particularly fancy, it is just this fact that makes it so interesting! You see, working with glass is old, but was to a large extent based around the production of high value luxury goods like beads or thick-walled containers. However, a new development in glass-working was developed in the first century BC. Glassblowing.
With a slightly different recipe, molten glass could be set at the end of a pipe and blown into, forming a thin-walled bulb which could be further shaped by the blower. This lead to faster, easier, and finer production. Before this, glass was either formed in chunks and carefully hammered down into pleasing shapes, cast into thick shapes, or poured in patterns while in a semi-molten state. This new technique made glass products more useful and cheaper to produce. Coinciding with Roman domination of the Mediterranean, particular the East where this process was developed, the practice of glassblowing spread readily affordable glass across the new empire as vessels, tableware, and decorations. Glass became the plastic of its day!
Our example here is one of those affordable pieces. The green colour of this piece is the natural for glass. It comes from traces of Iron. Clear or near transparent glass, developed only a little earlier than glassblowing, required extra materials to make the colour from the Iron weaker. Other colours, like blue, red, or purple, required other components to produce and were thus more valuable.
Glass soon found its way into almost every part of daily life, from morning rituals to markets to dinner. Our piece was possibly used to store and transport oil, which may very well be how it ended up here. Romans on campaign or stationed at the edges of the empire still desired the comforts of home. Large quantities of oils and other goods were shipped to where the soldiers were.
Interestingly, this isn’t too different to what we have today. We still go to the store and buy ourselves bottles of oil and these are still often made of glass (or else plastic made to look like glass). While our bottle may not take centre stage as a work of fine art, it is a testament to our ingenuity, creativity, and practicality and can tell us much about how people lived in the past and continue to today.
This is just one of many green objects we will have available for you to engage with, hands on, and each of them have their own stories to tell.